Gainesville city staff and the commission will evaluate the scope of an East Gainesville multi-use complex and decide next steps on May 19 after Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut brought the item up at Thursday’s General Policy Committee.
The commissioners left specifics for the future, and while discussion centered on the current MLK Jr. Multipurpose Center and Citizens Field at the corner of Waldo Road and NE 8th Avenue, both commissioners Desmon Duncan-Walker and Reina Saco expressed interest in exploring other locations.
The unanimous motion directs staff to create a framework for a request for qualifications that the commission can approve or add to on May 19.
It also includes the facility on the Wild Spaces Public Places list for next year and starts conversations with state Rep. Yvonne Hinson, D-District 20, and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) on traffic measures for Waldo Road from NE 16th Avenue to E. University Avenue.
The motion also starts conversations with the community on the issues, especially the school board who uses Citizens Field to host games for Eastside, Gainesville and Buchholz high schools.
In her presentation, Chestnut said the facility will need to adapt to area needs and consider other developments within the county. She emphasized that Gainesville does not need a copy of the facility she visited in Birmingham, Alabama.
However, Chestnut said sports tourism is growing and the facility could capitalize on that.
“Our purpose is not to compete with Celebration Pointe, an indoor athletic facility, while our mission is primarily geared toward outdoor activities,” Chestnut said. “In many ways, we will complement each other.”
Her vision included renovating Citizens Field and the MLK Center along with expansions, like a senior citizen’s wing and connecting the pool with the center to form one unified complex.
“We’re after a facility for our community, for our neighbors, for our people,” Chestnut said.
She wants the complex to be the gold standard in East Gainesville like how Depot Park embodies a gold standard in the center of the city.
Mayor Lauren Poe said the commission should be careful using “sports” in the name as the vision is more than that. He also said the project, for him, is guided by joint goals of adding value to the area and becoming a catalyst for economic growth.
After public comment, Saco said the city would not drop everything for the project.
“We are not ignoring other things we are doing,” Saco said. “We are not prioritizing this over anything.”
Duncan-Walker also talked along similar lines, asking about another city project that the commission had already approved for a cultural arts center.
“But I want to make sure that we understand, and that I have a clear understanding of, what our process is,” Duncan-Walker said.
Conversation planned for May 19 will determine how the city moves forward.
Commissioners agreed that Citizens Field needs renovation along with the current MLK Jr. Center, and Poe said the project would allow the city to address those needs and others while adding to the area.
“No matter where you go, I’m going to be here fighting for this until I see it happen,” Chestnut said.
Meanwhile, Alachua County’s sports complex at Celebration Pointe nears an important milestone. The county will host a “topping off ceremony” on May 6 at 5 p.m.